Born: December 11, 1938;

Died: March 6, 2020.

McCOY Tyner, who has died aged 81, was an American jazz pianist who was one of the greats in his field throughout the latter half of the 20th century, with an extensive catalogue of studio and live-recorded albums under his own name on celebrated jazz labels such as Impulse!, Blue Note and Milestone.

Yet his greatest impact on American jazz came not under his own powers alone, but as one-quarter of John Coltrane’s famous quartet, which had a huge and emphatic impact upon the artform throughout the 1960s.

Tyner played alongside Coltrane between 1960 and 1965, and, with Coltrane on saxophone, drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison, he was an integral part of the key quartet which is widely regarded as having backed the revered Coltrane at the height of his powers, between 1962 and 1965, when they performed and toured with a relentless energy.

Among the records Tyner played on with Coltrane were two acknowledged touchstones of modern music history: My Favourite Things (1960) and A Love Supreme (1964), as well as further key mid-period recordings including the second album, Coltrane (1962); the interpretative recording Ballads (1963), whose songs the group performed in single takes from sheet music and minimal rehearsal time; and the live/studio hybrids Impressions (1963) and Live at Birdland (1964).

Although Tyner and Coltrane’s uncanny natural empathy as musicians began to evaporate as the latter explored routes into free jazz which were not so much to Tyner’s more formal tastes, the dissolution of their working partnership in 1965 came after the recording of Ascension (1966), a key work in the development of free jazz, and of the similarly constructed follow-up, Meditations (1966); both records featured a wider ensemble, which also included Pharaoh Sanders on tenor saxophone.

Following Coltrane’s tragically young death at the age of 40 in 1967, his record label Impulse! released further albums of music which had been recorded and shelved prior to Tyner’s departure, including the psychedelic free jazz explorations Om (1968) and Sun Ship (1971), and another waypoint between his traditional and free jazz periods, Transitions (1970).

Meanwhile, Tyner – who had released records as a group leader throughout his time with Coltrane, and who filled in immediately after leaving the quartet with live work for artists including Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Ike and Tina Turner – began recording in earnest once more.

From 1967’s The Real McCoy on, he recorded seven albums of material for Blue Note, with side-artists including his old bandmate Jones, Miles Davis’ regular saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and the well-travelled likes of Ron Carter, Gary Bartz and Joe Henderson, as well as Coltrane’s vocalist daughter Alice on Extensions (released 1973).

With his final Blue Note recording until the late 1980s, Asante (recorded 1970, released 1974), and his first of a long and fruitful association with Milestone, Sahara (1972), he began to explore West African and Arabic instrumentation, as well as elements of swing and avant-jazz in later years.

He recorded more than 70 studio and live albums under his own or shared billing in an active career which lasted until the late 2000s, including an extraordinary run of 19 records on Milestone throughout the 1970s. Among these were tributes to Coltrane (including the solo 1972 piano suite, Echoes for a Friend), and collaborations with the jazz guitarist and singer George Benson and the violinist Stephane Grappelli.

Tyner also regularly appeared as a guest player on other musicians’ records, among them works by Benson, Shorter, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine, as well as on Art Blakey’s 1964 A Jazz Message.

Alfred McCoy Tyner was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1938, the eldest of Jarvis and Beatrice’s three children. With his mother’s encouragement, he studied at West Philadelphia Music School and the city’s Granoff School of Music, going on to make a name for himself as a young local club musician; the jazz pianists Richie and Bud Powell (the latter a big inspiration, alongside Thelonious Monk) were friends and neighbours from his youth.

It was out in the city that Tyner met the already established Coltrane, twelve years his senior, who liked what he heard and offered him an open invitation to join his quartet when he felt suitably experienced.

Coltrane had already recorded Tyner’s piece The Believer (about the latter’s then-recent conversion to Islam) in 1958, when he hired him to play in his group for a run of New York shows in 1960. The light, seductive Village Blues on Coltrane’s 1961 album Coltrane Blues marked Tyner’s first released recording with him; it was also the first recorded iteration of the classic quartet, albeit with Steve Davis in place of Garrison.

Tyner played left-handed and was a gifted improviser, with the kind of power and dextrous precision which made him a true original; he was much imitated by jazz players who came after. He knew, however, that his legacy was not about star power, but – particularly in his era-shifting work with Coltrane – about the collective producing something greater than the individual. “To me, it’s a wonderful way to not only think, but behave,” he once said. “To create civility in life and society itself, to think of yourself in relationship to other people… what you do may effect someone else.”

McCoy Tyner is survived by his wife Aisha, son Nurudeen, and three grandchildren. He won five Grammy Awards, bore an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Arts, and was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2002, the highest honour presented to jazz musicians in America.